The 1961 and 1962 Corvette Story

1 year 4 months ago - 1 year 4 months ago #936 by JP
JP created the topic: The 1961 and 1962 Corvette Story

1961 Corvette Roadster

There's an old saying in baseball, “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make.” Perhaps the same can be said of some automobile models. In the case of the automobile industry, it is the best designs that you don’t change. That is the way it was for the Corvette at Chevrolet during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

1962 Red Convertible/hardtop Corvette

1953 Corvette

There was certainly no shortage of ideas for new and different Corvettes styles in those years but, in the end, very few changes were actually made to the basic theme of this fiberglass sports car. All you have to do is look at the 1962 Corvette side-by-side with the 1953 to see their design stayed pretty much in the same mold. However, don’t be misled by this, Chevrolet did contemplate making significant changes and some new model proposals were simply not appealing enough to chance the change.

1957 Q Model Corvette, all aluminum, fuel injected 283 engine with dry sump oil system was proposed

For example, perhaps one of the most appealing new designs of that era that never made it onto the streets was the so-called, “Q-model.” Even though the Corvette was always a bona fide sports car at during these ten years, and a unique entity in the Chevy line of cars, it always used some components from the cars in the division's better selling models. This practice enabled the Corvette to be one of the real values for a sports car during this era of time. It was expected that the new Q-model would be no different from the production 'Vettes that had gone before it. The only difference would probably have been in the types of parts the Q-model car used from its “brothers and sisters” at GM.

In the late 1950s, when the planning for 1961-62 Corvette was underway, Chevrolet contemplated a radical departure from its traditional design philosophy. They considered a separate line of cars which featured a rear-mounted transaxle and an all-independent suspension. The transaxle, an unusual piece of hardware in and of itself, sported integral inboard brakes. Through its creation, engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov finally realized his dream of a Corvette with a fully independent rear suspension. But not only that, the transaxle was slated to be made in both the manual and automatic transmission versions of the car, some with an integral starter motor.

Before anyone could say extraordinary, Chevrolet engineers and stylists were drawing up Corvette designs around this new "Q" transaxle. One of Chevrolet’s best designs looked like a slimmed-down version of what would eventually become the 1963 Sting Ray. It too was a "split window" coupe, but in this case, the split was at the front! Two pieces of glass were wrapped around from the sides to join at the car's longitudinal centerline, thus forming both windshield and side windows.

Other design formulations to this car were just as radical in their concept. There was a “dry-sump” lubrication, unit body/chassis construction, and pop-up hideaway headlights. The Q-model car was quite light in its overall weight and, coupled with its all-independent suspension, the new concept promised the car’s driver a nice handling experience.

But even when this new "European-inspired" Corvette was being developed, car sales as an industry whole remained in the doldrums because the 1958 recession was still impacting consumer pocketbooks. With the market showing very few signs of a strong recovery, the compact rear-engine Corvair had become a top priority and Chevy abruptly halted work on the Q-model.

1961 Pontiac Tempest

By the way, a similar transaxle setup with swing-arm rear suspension was in production in the 1961 Pontiac Tempest. Shockingly, this car proved to be one of the most wicked-handling cars Detroit ever built! I guess, in retrospect, maybe it was good that the Q-model never made it to Chevy’s production line. Corvette lovers can still breathe a sigh of relief that the Q-model never materialized because its handling abilities would have been grossly rivaled by the 1961 Pontiac Tempest. It could have been a game changer, or ender, for the Corvette as of that year. But guess what? It never happened and Corvettes remain the apple of many an eye today.

1961 Corvette

That sigh of relief was entirely justified by what actually did emerge for 1961-62. As the final developments of the original 1963 concept emerged, they were arguably the best Corvettes since its "class of 1956-57.” There was fresh new styling through a creative but mild and effective facelift by designer Bill Mitchell. It was a welcome change from the some-what chrome-laden look of the 1958-60 period. Also, there were numerous mechanical modifications aimed at both better performance and improved running refinement. The result was an offspring of Corvettes that almost qualified as all-new. This is why so many enthusiasts tend to consider the 1961-62 cars as a distinct Corvette generation.

Jewel Blue 1961 GM Chevrolet Corvette

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Rear

1961 Chevrolet Corvette

Externally, the most pronounced change for 1961 was a completely new rear-end treatment lifted virtually intact from Mitchell's Stingray racer and also seen on his XP- 700 show car. The latter had a certifiably bizarre front end, with a large loop bumper/grille protruding well forward of the quad headlights set above it. But the rear portion on both cars had a very simple flowing shape that just happened to mate well with Harley Earl's production 1958 Corvette front-end design. A bonus of the new aft section was created which was quickly dubbed the "ducktail." This change increased luggage space by up to 20 percent. Highlighting it were twin taillights on either side of the central license plate recess and a modest longitudinal crease line running down the trunk lid through a large round Corvette medallion. Simple chrome “bumperettes” bracketed the license plate frame and, for the first time, the Corvette's dual exhausts exited below the body rather than through it or the bumper as in prior years. Up front, the basic four-lamp nose was retained but it was considerably cleaned up. The chrome head- light bezels were now body color, and the trademark vertical grille "teeth" were jettisoned in favor of a fine, horizontal-mesh insert that had been under consideration for several years. The round medallion that had traditionally announced the 'Vette was replaced by a crossed-flags symbol and separate letters spelling out the car's name. The 1961 Corvette was also the last of the breed available with a contrasting color for the body- side "cove" indentations and, at just $16.15 additional, most buyers ordered it.

1961 Corvette Interior

1961 Corvette Interior dash

Other options on the '61 included a heater, outrageously priced at $102.25 over the suggested $3934 base figure. Air conditioning, power steering and power brakes weren't available, but you could order a "Wonder Bar" signal-seeking AM radio, whitewall tires, Posi-traction limited-slip differential, and the all-important four-speed manual transmission. More than 7,000 lusty souls, nearly three-fourths of all Corvette customers for the year, paid the $188.30 asking price for the four-speed. Electric windows and a Rube Goldberg- like power top were offered, and the standard equipment list was bolstered by windshield washers, sun visors, a temperature-controlled radiator fan, and a parking brake warning light.

1961 Corvette original engine compartment

Mechanically, the '61 'Vette retained the basic running gear used the year before, but there were a few fairly significant changes. One of the most important was substitution of an aluminum radiator for the previous copper-core unit. The new radiator offered not only 10 percent more cooling capacity but also weighed half as much as the 1960 assembly. Side-mount expansion tanks were added as a running change during the year. Engine choices were basically carryovers. Chevy's renowned 283 small-block V-8 was offered in five versions ranging from the mild 230-horsepower, single-carburetor unit to the positively wild 315-bhp fuel-injected mill. In between were two four-barrel setups, one single and one dual, rated at 245 and 270 bhp, respectively. There was also a tamer version of the "fuelie" with 275 bhp. Again the standard gearbox was the familiar manual three-speed, now available in 1961 with a wider choice of axle ratios. Powerglide automatic and the four-speed manual transmissions returned as extras. Powerglide was not listed with the three hottest engine choices and, as mentioned, most buyers opted for the four-speed over the base manual. That proved to be a good choice, because the four-speed came encased in aluminum for the first time, effecting a weight savings of 15 pounds.

Inside, the '61 had no major changes except for a narrower transmission tunnel, which added much needed room in the close and cozy two-passenger cockpit. Four interior color schemes were available: black, red, fawn and blue.

Even with the mildest 283 and Powerglide, the 1961 Corvette was a fast little car by any standard. "Buff" magazine testers recorded 0-60 mph acceleration of just 7. 7 seconds for this power team, better than that of a current Ferrari 308GTS (which, incidentally, went out the dealer’s door for about $60,000). This 1961 Corvette fuel-injected/four-speed piece of beauty knocked another two seconds off that time making it one of the fastest cars in the history of street racing. Top speed with Power-glide was listed at 109 mph, limited mainly by its transmission’s gearing. The close-ratio four-speed car lacked the long-legged overdrive ratio of most modern five-speed manuals. But even with this so, many of the fuel-injected and 4x2 carbureted models could were known to have seen the furthest side of 130 mph.

Though Corvette still lacked an independent rear suspension like some of its more expensive European rivals, it was not much of a factor to its buyers on either the street or track side of owning this car. Testers for major car magazines sang the praises of the '61 model's handling virtues, and almost no one found any particular vices. For the first time the Corvette was, by contemporary standards at least, one of the most road-able cars built anywhere in the world! Proof of this was provided in the 1961 running of the grueling Sebring 12 Hours of Endurance, where a near-stock Corvette finished 11th overall against much more expensive and exotic prototype machinery.

1962 Chevrolet Corvette

If the 1961 Corvette was good, and it was, the 1962 edition was even better. It offered both more power and a more sophisticated appearance, making it the most desirable of the 1958-62 cars. The biggest news was under the hood. The 283 small-block got the traditional hot rod treatment, a bore and stroke job bringing cylinder dimensions to 4.00 x 3.25 inches for a total displacement of 327 cubes. This power plant would form the basis for Corvette muscle through 1965. And the emphasis was definitely on power because even in its most docile form the 327 pumped out a claimed 250 horses which is 50 more ponies than the same basic engine which yielded 23 more cubes in the 1984 Corvette.

1962 Corvette engine

For true acceleration fanatics there was a Rochester fuel-injected version that dynoed out at 360 bhp, more than enough to nail you and your passenger to the seats in g-force similar to a drag way run. Where did all this new-found power come from? In addition to greater bore and stroke, which also occasioned the use of heavier-duty bearings, the three engines received larger ports and a longer-duration shaft. The injected 327 used the so-called "Duntov" solid-lifter cam, as did the top carbureted engine, rated at 340 bhp. Compression ratio on these engines was a whopping 11.25:1, while the lower-output mills had a still impressive 10.5:1 squeeze.

Perhaps the best choices for all-around use were the standard 250-bhp and step-up 300-bhp versions. Both had more than enough power while benefiting from the simplicity and easy maintenance of hydraulic cam and a single, four-barrel carburetor. In fact, after 1961, the often super but troublesome twin four-barrel carburetion went out the window altogether, and a single four-barrel Carter instrument was used instead. In the 340-and 360-bhp engines, the peak power speed was at a screaming 6,000 rpm, quite high for a pushrod mill, while in the 250- and 300-bhp versions it was 4,400 and 5,000 rpm, respectively. Powerglide automatic was available only with the latter two, and was treated to a significantly lighter aluminum housing this year.

The added engine power made more stopping power a vital necessity. Accordingly, sintered-metallic brake linings appeared on the Corvette option list for the first time, and brought notable improvement in breaking.

1962 Chevy Corvette Rear Side View

Though the '62 Corvette's engines were new, its styling wasn't. The quad-headlight body had been around since 1958 and was beginning to look a bit dated, even though Chevy stylists had by now removed most of the original design's worst excesses. In fact, quite a bit of bright chrome work disappeared on this final version, making it the cleanest yet. One obvious alteration was removal of the chrome outline around the body side coves. The reverse front fender air scoops lost their triple chrome accent spears in favor of more conservative ribbed aluminum appliques, and to emphasize this more cohesive look, the contrasting color insert for the coves vanished from the options sheet, so there were no factory two-tone '62s. Other styling elements were similarly updated. The chrome mesh grille introduced the previous year was painted black, the background of the trunk lid medallion also went black, and the optional white-walls were now significantly slimmer than the "wide whites" of yore. The only place where decoration was added was the rocker panels, now adorned with ribbed anodized-aluminum moldings.

The '62 Corvette marked the end of an era for America's sports car, a changing of the guard. Its design was finalized long before the car actually appeared because Chevy stylists and engineers were already hard at work on the completely re-engineered body and suspension ordained for the revolutionized 1963 model. Yet the '62 did introduce the first of the new Sting Ray engines, the versatile 327, and thus bridged the gap between the old and the new. The fiberglass body panels and the X-braced frame both harked back to the first 1953s, yet thanks to Duntov the car had long since shed its pedestrian origins. The '62 Corvette was faster, handled better, looked neater, and was significantly more modern than any of the earlier models, yet somehow managed to retain much of the charm of the original roadster concept. As an example of its transitional character, the '62 was the first Corvette with a heater as standard equipment and the last not available with factory air conditioning or power brakes even as options. It was also the last Corvette to have an external opening trunk lid.

Whatever the '62 was or wasn't, it was certainly a star on the street, strip and track. The new power and torque of the bigger 327 engine resulted in truly ferocious 0-60 mph and quarter-mile acceleration. In fact, the car magazines routinely reeled off quarters in 15 seconds or less at trap speeds of about 100 mph or more. Equipped with the stiffer competition springs, it was an excellent production-class racer. The Sports Car Club of America's A-Production champion in 1962 was Dr. Dick Thompson, who would go on to greater glories with later versions of the plastic-bodied sports car. Even with only minor modifications the Corvette was a serious competitor. Don Yenko took SCCA's B-Production title that same year.

Meanwhile, Corvette was scoring in another kind of race more important to GM managers: the sales race. The company sold 14,531 of the '62s compared with 10,939 of the '6ls. Corvette had turned the profit corner back with the 1958 model, but it was now beginning to show a sizable return on its investment, no doubt to the relief of supporters like Duntov, Cole, and Mitchell, who kept the faith even before the car became profitable.

All in all, the 1961-62 Corvettes were a satisfying and successful conclusion to the first chapter of Chevy's great sports car experiment. Now it was time for a new chapter, the "all-new" Corvette that had been widely rumored for the previous two years. The Sting Ray was on its way, and the automotive world would never be the same again.

Let’s read on, huh? This is a Great car and a Great story. Thanks for checking in. Remember, we sell cars, Corvettes too, auto parts and restoration expert services from all around America. Check out Ed’s Swap to the max. If you have parts lying around, post them now while it is still free to post a classified ad on this site. Thanks for joining us. We love ya, JP.
Last Edit: 1 year 4 months ago by JP.

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